Anti-government protestors in Bangkok on Aug. 16
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank and Manon Dambrine

In two very different parts of the world, seemingly impenetrable authoritarian regimes suddenly appear under siege by popular democratic uprisings. But as protesters take to the streets in Belarus and Thailand — and garner widespread international support — it still remains unclear if they'll be able to turn their mass demonstrations into tangible change.

Flawed democracy, military rule: Thailand, which for years has vacillated between periods of a flourishing if flawed democracy and straight-out military rule, has been run by generals who took over in a 2014 coup and suspended the constitution. The junta has faced sporadic protests, but General-turned-Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's victory for another four-year tem in a sketchy 2019 general election did not cause a major stir, until the recent unrest.

One-man show: In contrast, Belarus has seen next to no bona fide democracy since it became independent following the end of the Soviet Union. President Alexander Lukashenko (who has served for 26 years) recently won reelection in what is widely considered to be a corrupt race that included his opponent fleeing and seeking asylum in Lithuania. Many Belarusians had developed a sense of complacency with the man often described as Europe's last dictator — particularly in defending the small former Soviet country against its neighbor Russia.

What changed in Minsk: But the spark of revolution is drawing supporters from even his traditional base. Belarus's largest protest ever took place last weekend in the capital Minsk.

• Tens of thousands chanted "Resign" and condemned the police brutality that has led to at least two deaths and around 6,700 arrests. Accounts of torture and forced disappearances have only spurred more to join the protests.

• Many state employees have quit their jobs, including members of the government-controlled media, who called it a propaganda arm for Lukashenko.

• Opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya encouraged collective action in a video, saying "We need to stop the violence on the streets of Belarusian cities. I call on the government to stop this and come to the negotiating table."

What changed in Bangkok: Meanwhile last Sunday in the Thai capital, an estimated 10,000 student protesters attended a rally at the Democracy Monument asking for the reform of the country's monarchy.

• The protest, organized by the Free People group — formerly called Free Youth — is the largest anti-government rally since the 2014 coup. Thatthep Ruangprapaikitseree, the group's leader, announced in a statement they will stick to three demands: They want the dissolution of the House of Representatives, a new constitution "based on the will of the people" and "the end of intimidation of critics of the government."

• This movement comes after a month of almost daily protests which took place all around the country; a Harry Potter-themed rally criticizing the monarchy drew global media attention. Dressed as Hogwarts students, the young protesters denounced "lèse-majesté" laws, which ban criticism of the royal family and can lead to 15 years in prison.

Recent protest in Minsk against President Lukashenko. — Photo: Ulf Mauder/DPA/ZUMA

• Like in Belarus, Thai authorities are using the threat of incarceration to silence both movement leaders and those protesting on the front lines.

Eleven activists have already been arrested over the recent protests, but police have said there are arrest warrants for a further 12 people with more under investigation. This past Saturday, the student activist Parit Chiwarak, 22, was arrested on charges of sedition.

• Thai youth are criticizing the establishment itself that is promoting obedience to authorities and tradition. They are also concerned with a worsening financial situation, with the poverty rate jumping from 7.2% to 9.8% between 2015 and 2018.

The pandemic factor: COVID-19 is raising the stakes for both the regimes and protesters in both countries.

• The tourism sector, vital for Thailand's economy, has been severely impacted. With no foreign tourists allowed into the country for months, the crisis caused millions of job losses in hotels and restaurants. According to the Nikkei Asian Review, Thailand recorded its largest economic contraction since 1999 in the quarter ending in June.

• The economy was also an important factor in Belarus: While it experienced economic growth in the first decade of the 2000s, growth especially in industrial sectors has stagnated as public debt to GDP ratios have increased. The economy is now expected to contract 2% this year because of the health crisis and decreased demand for its commodities.

Democratic takeaway: The Belarus protesters have garnered more attention and global support than their counterparts in Thailand. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the president of the European Council have said they want Lukashenko to be held accountable. But the country risks turning into a proxy battlefield in a larger geopolitical landscape, as offers of military assistance from Russia are raising fears of President Vladimir Putin gaining control in the country of nine million people.

The relative diplomatic silence around Thailand since the military takeover in 2014 is a sign that the fate of the country is largely in the hands of its own people and leaders. For those risking their lives for the cause of democracy — in Bangkok, Minsk or myriad places in between — global interest in your country can cut both ways.

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La Sagrada Familia Delayed Again — Blame COVID-19 This Time

Hopes were dashed by local officials to see the completion of the iconic Barcelona church in 2026, in time for the 100th anniversary of the death of its renowned architect Antoni Guadí.

Work on La Sagrada Familia has been delayed because of the pandemic

By most accounts, it's currently the longest-running construction project in the world. And now, the completion of work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882, is going to take even longer.

Barcelona-based daily El Periodico daily reports that work on the church, which began as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. But a press conference Tuesday, Sep. 21 confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin).

El Periódico - 09/22/2021

El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world.

One tower after the other… Slowly but surely, La Sagrada Familia has been growing bigger and higher before Barcelonians and visitors' eager eyes for nearly 140 years. However, all will have to be a bit more patient before they see the famous architectural project finally completed. During Tuesday's press conference, general director of the Construction Board of the Sagrada Familia, Xavier Martínez, and the architect director, Jordi Faulí, had some good and bad news to share.

As feared, La Sagrada Familia's completion date has been delayed. Because of the pandemic, the halt put on the works in early March when Spain went into a national lockdown. So the hopes are dashed of the 2026 inauguration in what would have been the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death.

Although he excluded new predictions of completion until post-COVID normalcy is restored - no earlier than 2024 -, Martínez says: "Finishing in 2030, rather than being a realistic forecast, would be an illusion, starting the construction process will not be easy," reports La Vanguardia.

But what's a few more years when you already have waited 139, after all? However delayed, the construction will reach another milestone very soon with the completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years and the second tallest spire of the complex. It will be crowned by a 12-pointed star which will be illuminated on December 8, Immaculate Conception Day.

Next would be the completion of the Evangelist Lucas tower and eventually, the tower of Jesus Christ, the most prominent of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated 13.5 meters wide "great cross." It will be made of glass and porcelain stoneware to reflect daylight and will be illuminated at night and project rays of light.

La Sagrada Familia through the years

La Sagrada Familia, 1889 - wikipedia

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